On Thursday, February 22, the House of Delegates passed perhaps the best budget I have seen come from the body in the last twelve years. The House Budget includes the following highlights:
- The expansion of healthcare access to 400,000 Virginians by accessing our federal tax dollars and bringing them back to our State to provide coverage for low-income Virginians. Democrats have been fighting for Medicaid expansion for more than five years, and the House Budget was built around the assumption that this extra revenue will be coming to the Commonwealth. Without that revenue, it would be very difficult to fund the other positive initiatives in the budget. This decision provided monies so that other initiatives could be funded.
- In K-12 education, not only did we fund the re-benchmarking for the Standards of Quality (a $480 million item) but we also made more lottery money available to schools, giving them greater flexibility in how it is spent. We also provided more money to smaller school divisions that struggle to make ends meet. We have some additional work to do to ensure Charlottesville and Albemarle are protected against some cuts in this budget, but I will be fighting to restore this funding in the final product.
- Major investments in higher education, long ignored during challenged budget cycles. The House budget funds new college degrees in needed fields such as big data, science, engineering, and health.
- The acceleration of 2 percent raises for teachers and other public employees, including sheriffs and law enforcement personnel.
- Major new investments in our ports, which are so critical to the future economic diversity of our Commonwealth.
- Funding for an additional 825 community living and disability support waivers.
- A new initiative designed to increase the number of Virginians who can access good jobs in cyber-security fields.
- $45.5 million for need-based financial aid for in-state undergraduate college students, and an increase of tuition assistance grant (TAG) amounts to $3,350 per person.
Budget Based on Voter’s Values
Last November, voters spoke loudly and clearly for the values embodied in this House budget. While it is not perfect, this is the type of budget that Virginians voted for last fall. I was happy to vote for it, and I will fight to ensure that its initiatives are included in the final budget passed by the General Assembly.
Both the House and the Senate began their budget work based on the Governor’s budget, submitted back in December 2017. Then-Governor McAuliffe included revenues that would come with Medicaid expansion in that document. Since the Senate’s budget unfortunately does not include Medicaid expansion, their Finance Committee made substantial cuts in the Governor’s proposed budget, with the result that pay raises for public employees and teachers were not included and other initiatives were cut. It is our hope that the Senate will come to accept Medicaid expansion as something that will not only help thousands of Virginians directly, but will create a better budget for everyone in the Commonwealth.
Let Us Hear From YOU!
Please call my Richmond office at (804) 698-1057 or email me at DelDToscano@house.virginia.gov anytime through March 10, when we adjourn, to let me know what you think about important bills. And come see us if you are in Richmond. We are in Room E601 of the Pocahontas Building, 900 East Main Street. This is the temporary home of the General Assembly for the next few years as the new General Assembly building is constructed.